Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No Corners Cut in Social Media

Image via Digital Inspiration

Let's talk about Facebook this week. Something is always going on with that social platform and it makes the news almost every day.  They're always trying something new and breaking something in the process, which drives some of their users crazy, but as long as their profits come from advertisers and they're not charging their users to be there, it's not likely they're going to become a kinder, gentler Facebook anytime soon.

What You See and What You Don't

If you've been staying current on FB news, you  know that there's been a lot of talk about the FB algorithms for determining what you see. If you don't change your preferences, your newsfeed will show you what it determines are the "Top" stories, rather than the most recent. If a page you like hasn't got enough interest, you may not see their posts unless you choose specifically to include their notifications after you Like them. If you rate your social media outreach by engagement, your statistics will be dismaying: engagement levels will fall significantly.

However, Pages - like those managed by small nonprofits - are always welcome to upgrade their posts to 'sponsored' by paying FB to post them more prominently so that they have a greater chance of being seen. This strategy, which has allegedly recently been increased, is meant to start getting the bigger brands like Oreo to pay for more reach. If they don't want to lose the community they've built up, they'll need to pay the piper.

Unfortunately, this means that small businesses and small nonprofits, which have also established presence on FB will be hurt. Without the budget to promote their posts, they may lose engagement. This means that they'll have to work extra hard to get their posts Liked and Shared so that they don't quickly fall off of the newsfeed. (There's a more in-depth article about it, which does contain salty language. Read it here at ValleyWag.)

Facebook and Big/Small Data

Businesses are pretty consumed with Big Data these days. Not something that small nonprofits have had on their radar, although it's useful to know about it, because a lot of the bigger corporations and foundations are using Big Data to figure out where to spend their money.  Usually, though, where the money is for small nonprofits is in Small Data: reaching out with the "best possible content, one piece at a time." If the theory in this article turns out to be correct, it's likely that card swiping (cards on your tablet or smartphone as opposed to credit card swiping) may be something that Facebook hasn't anticipated and an engagement platform that lets you make use of this technology (like Tinder) may be the wave of the future for small nonprofits.

Meanwhile, it's not enough to know about some things on the periphery. I know you've got a ton of work to do, but as we move on in time, social media isn't going to get less important. To survive and thrive here, don't look for the quick 10 easy steps to making it work for your mission. It may seem like you're learning when you go through those lists and bullet points, but the thing that teaches best is learning followed by experimentation and experience.

Bonus Data:

Happiness is Contagious (Psyblog) - emotions expressed online are contagious.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Learning and How

NYC - UES - MCNY: The Glory Days - 1955 World ...
The Glory Days - 1955 World Series Scorecard (Photo credit: wallyg)
For those of you less older than the hills, 'And how!' was a catchphrase of my mother's generation - the equivalent of 'word'. Last week, I put up a post about writing, and I used a new tool - one that analyzes headlines to see how appealing they are. The headline I used had a very good rating. I thought the content of the post was useful as well.

But the post got less than half the readers the blog normally gets. It bombed and how.

Do you not like posts about writing? Was the content not as interesting to you as to me? Was the headline the opposite of what I thought - less inviting rather than more? I'm still working out the answers. If you'd like to weigh in, please drop me a comment.

In the meantime, I found what I think is some useful information, but the different posts don't share much other than being interesting, so let's just consider this a roundup:


Are you using it? And if you are, how are you using it? MakeUseOf's Joel Lee has some tips on what not to do.


I frequent two Twitter Chats. Have you ever considered having your small nonprofit host one? Nonprofit Tech for Good tells you how.


I'm a proponent of getting awareness of your mission through any social media means (ethical and legal) possible. But do the 'likes' and the retweets really help? One of my favorite reads, The Monkey Cage addresses this issue using data in an article by Laura Seay.

Rewards System

MakeUseOf is using software and tee shirts together with a point system as an incentive to get more people recommending or forwarding their articles. Would this be something you'd try? Or maybe you've already tried it. If you did, did you consider it worthwhile?  I'm really on the fence about this. On the face of it, it seems like a useful program, but I have to wonder what the objective is? Are they buying endorsements? Will this result in more readers or is this purely a bid for higher interaction numbers in the short term without regard future loyalty? What do you think?

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Be A Writefully Happy Blogger

English: Illustration of the final chase of Mo...
English: Illustration of the final chase of Moby-Dick.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last post was about titles for your blog posts or email subjects. Now let's talk about what goes in those posts and emails - not the content, but how you write about it.

Marketing Content is Not About Selling

This can never be repeated too often for my taste. As a recent Buffer blog post by Belle Beth Cooper* put it, Marketing Content exists to:
  • build familiarity
  • build likability
  • build trust
I know for many people, marketing is a unsavory term, but really you put your small nonprofit and its mission on the market every time you communicate socially. You're saying, "out of all the stuff coming at you through the fire hose that is social media, please pay attention to me."

So you put together a great title or subject line and you know your subject is the bee's knees, but you've got to support them both with your writing. Please note that this is by no means supposed to be a comprehensive look at the mechanics of good writing - after all, you work for a small nonprofit, so you're already busy. But there are some traps that most people fall into fairly easily when it comes to crafting a story.

The Basics
  • Brevity and Flow
  • Voice
  • Vocabulary

Brevity and Flow

This doesn't mean short and sharp, this means don't string something out if you can avoid it. Doing away with passive voice (see Voice, below) will go a long way to sorting this out, but you should keep in mind that most people don't like to read long blocks of text. Nor do they like the kinds of long, long sentences that Melville (Moby Dick) liked. Keep the sentence length reasonable and pay attention to how one sentence flows into another and so on. Tip: read your writing out loud to yourself. If something stops you, chances are you need to smooth the flow at that spot.


Passive voice is the bane of most writing. (If you need a brush-up on this subject, go here.) Be ruthless in stamping it out of your own writing. Fresh verbs and adjectives will lend your sentences vigor and make them more interesting. Besides the grammatical construction of voice, there's also such a thing as your voice, or style, which is made up of a writer's choices (long and complex sentences were Melville's style). For most social communications I recommend a social or conversational style - as though you were having an exchange of ideas with someone in person.


Because I started out professionally as a technical writer, my prose tends to be written at about a 4th or 5th grade level. This makes reading through a lot easier. If you stick with a conversational tone, you will probably be able to avoid tiring your readers.

Extra Help

Because I'm a techie, I like techie tools. I recently was alerted to two that you might also find useful. One is Writeful. You paste in a writing sample and Writeful compares it to the 5+ million books Google has on the web. For example, if you entered "Today there are less people becoming astronauts," Writeful would tell you that although some people have used that sentence construction, most people use the construction "fewer people." It's lightweight, but it can add a little to your confidence if you're not quite sure about something.

The other tool, which is not lightweight is Expresso, which is in open beta. You paste in up to 5,000 words and it returns an analysis of such things as weak verbs and passive voice. You can also use it to find synonyms for words you use frequently so you don't repeat them too often. And if you are more than a casual writer, or want to be, it covers other good metrics like noun clustering (bad, in case you wondered).

So much to keep track of when you're writing a simple email, right? Tell an interesting story, title it invitingly, write it so that people won't be bored reading it. But the payoff - ahhh - getting their attention and keeping it long enough to get your message across... isn't that worth a little extra of your attention?

*On the subject of creating content, this is a great post. Do read it.
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